Sunday, August 22, 2010

School bag perfection

I mentioned before that one of my important back-to-school rituals is finding the right bag to carry to class all year. I think it's funny what an evolved and complicated process this has become, so I thought I might share.

It all started the first week of 1L year, when I realized just how much I would need to haul up and down the street every day for nine months. I'd assumed that some existing purse of mine would work - they were all pretty huge since I'd refused to carry a separate laptop bag throughout undergrad - but now my thinnest textbooks were twice as thick as my computer and could only fit in a couple of the most gigantic bags I owned.

Unfortunately, all of these happened to be in bright printed fabrics that clashed badly and obviously with a lot of my clothing (partly because I'm a vegetarian and try not to buy leather, and such is the style of many bags that aren't.) So I spent the first week of school only using them when I could find clothes that somewhat matched, and otherwise I showed up to class with numb arms and a distinct junior-high appearance from carrying a stack of books outside my too-small purse. I also repeatedly forgot things in the switch, leaving my highlighter or Bluebook or Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the wrong bag just in time to need them.

Needless to say, I put a stop to this the first chance I got. Aware that other students with this same problem had decided a backpack was the only solution, I strongly considered one of those. But every time I tried on a friend's, I felt like an idiot. Other people didn't seem to look like preteen geeks or wannabe hikers in them, but I couldn't quit feeling that way myself. Also, they made it kind of difficult to breathe. Maybe my years of using purses for my laptop had trained my body to want to haul weight on just one side.

So I marched into my favorite stationery store in the Square, where I'd seen great big tote bags hanging from the ceiling. I picked out a shiny apple-green one in quilted vinyl, happy that it was vegan and reasoning that unlike black or brown, it wouldn't cause a mismatch when I wore one or the other. I was in love after just a few days of class, and even for socializing I barely used any other bag all year.

However, come May I was pretty happy to retire it. The thing was threadbare, and anyway I had developed just a couple of complaints I hoped to eliminate for the coming year. With a similarly picky friend, I came up with a list of criteria for my 2L year schoolbag. Carrying over from the first year were:
  • Enormous
  • Not leather
  • Two handles, so I can get into it while carrying it
  • Solid color besides black or brown
But I added for this next time around:
  • Structured enough not to flop around while I put things in it
  • Lining not slippery, so if it falls over all my things won't slide out (say, across the ladies' room floor, because yes this did happen)
  • Looks sharp enough to carry into job interviews if need be
If you think that sounds like a pretty tall order, you're right. It took a few weeks of keeping an eye out on my own, then a few days of intensive searching with my good friend Bella in New York, before I found my perfect bag at the colossal designer discount store Century 21. Made by vegan and earth-friendly designers Matt & Nat and originally priced at something like $325, it cost me $120 and looked like this:

It was worth every penny. It probably would have been if I'd paid full price. It rose to every challenge of a long and tiring school year, and when I took a hard look at it this May, I was very sad to conclude that it had gotten too shabby to carry for another year. But it had served me so well that I couldn't think of a single thing I would change. So I set out shopping with the same list as last year in mind.

And I'm happy to announce that it went much more quickly this time: just one day in Harvard Square (where the best candidates, I was surprised to find, were at Urban Outfitters) and one day in downtown Boston did the trick. My new bag came from DSW, cost $66 with tax, and should hopefully meet every need I have:

There's a song I heard recently - playing over a scene in the Dennis Quaid movie The Rookie, actually, which Russell and I watched the other day over a game of Scrabble and really enjoyed - that made me smile to think of this ridiculous quest I've been on. According to Google, the song is Stuff that Works by Guy Clark, and I recommend it if you understand my pleasure in hard-sought things that work just right.

I know, or at least I hope, that we all have things we're this picky about. Maybe you can use some of my insights if you're headed to law school or some other activity involving very heavy things. Otherwise, I hope you can just share my satisfaction in being picky and having it pay off - again!

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